Bus strike threat as talks go on over 7.1 per cent two-year deal
Bus chiefs and unions were last night locked in last-minute talks to break a pay dispute that could spark strikes across Devon and Cornwall tomorrow.
At the time of going to press managers from First Devon and Cornwall and RMT unions officials were holding a string of talks in Plymouth, Truro and Camborne.
Unless a breakthrough is made union members, including bus drivers, engineers and backroom staff, will down tools for 24 hours.
Before the last-ditch attempt to salvage the situation was made Chrissie Bainbridge, service delivery director for First South Coast, said they were deciding what services could run. She said: "The offer we have put on the table for our staff is a very good one.
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"It guarantees drivers, engineers and administration staff a two-year pay deal worth up to 7.1% overall, with this year's rise backdated to April.
"The offer also adds to an already generous pay and benefits package. Drivers in Devon and Cornwall earn around £17,000 per annum as their basic salary with the opportunity to earn much more through overtime. Industrial action benefits no one."
Ms Bainbridge said the industry faced "challenging times" with millions of pounds worth of funding cuts. She said the company expected the union to work with them.
Ms Bainbridge said: "The recession is impacting on the number of people using our services.
"We would therefore expect trade unions representing our staff to work with us to grow the business and make it stronger, rather than undermining efforts in this way by calling for unnecessary strike action."
The company employs around 1,000 people in Devon and Cornwall.
RMT chiefs acted following a ballot in which members voted by 85% for strike action and by more than 90% for action short of a strike.
Yesterday afternoon Phil Bialyk, regional organiser for the transport union, said: "Hopefully the situation can be resolved."
Bob Crowe, RMT General Secretary, described the ballot result as a "massive mandate for action" from members working for the bus company.
He said: "Bus services and bus workers in the South West are under a series of attacks as the companies attempt to ramp up and protect profits at the expense of their staff and the travelling public.
"Our ballot of groups of staff on First Devon and Cornwall buses draws a line in the sand as we fight to protect standards of living."